Industry News | February 17, 2015 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Carl's Jr., Hardee's Upgrade Fish Sandwich with Craft Brew

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A number of quick serves are rolling out limited-time seafood offers for Lent, but Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s aim to raise the stakes with a new seafood item that is a bit saintly—and maybe a bit sinful.

“We know that fish is a must-carry item during Lent so we typically have a fish sandwich product and also a fish taco product,” says chief marketing officer for CKE Restaurants Brad Haley.

The Redhook Beer-Battered Cod Fish Sandwich and tacos (the latter is available only at select locations) pay homage to the meatless tradition with Icelandic cod filet and a not-so-repentant ingredient: beer.

“Fried fish sandwiches have been around almost since the beginning of the fast-food industry. We wanted to do one that was different and better,” Haley says. “We thought a beer batter would give it a unique taste and a unique appeal among our target audiences.”

Although the alcohol burns off during the cooking process, leaving only the flavors behind, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are in a rare position to advertise the sandwich. Because the stores target men age 18 to 34 rather than families, they can market special partnerships with alcohol brands. The first such collaboration was nearly two years ago with the Jim Beam Bourbon Thickburger.

“Our goal is to try to find menu items that are currently available upstream in casual dining or even fine dining restaurants and make them available,” Haley says.

The company looked into several different brands before deciding upon the Seattle-based brewery and its ESB (Extra Special Bitter) variety.

“It made a great fish sandwich, and in tests it really does seem that the Redhook association made this sandwich even more appealing than it would be if it was either not a branded beer or no beer-battering at all,” Haley says.

Although Lent marks a six-week period in which many consumers abstain from indulgent foods and beverages, Haley doesn’t anticipate that beer as an ingredient will hamper sales. In the past, other seafood specials like the Charbroiled Fish Sandwich in 2013 have been especially successful in that timeframe.

“The biggest single days tend to be Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but every Wednesday and Friday during Lent are significantly elevated,” Haley says. “A sandwich may sell two to three times what it will sell on one of the other days of the week during Lent.”

CKE Restaurants will continue to monitor sales after Easter to determine if the Redhook Beer-Battered Cod Fish Sandwich will find a permanent home on the menu.

Read more about fish sandwiches and seafood LTOs as part of our Lent coverage.

By Nicole Duncan

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